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Sweden continues push for open access to scholarly publications

19 December 2023
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Altough Sweden is far ahead when it comes to promoting open access to scholarly publications, there is risk of getting stuck in a permanent transformation that favours large commercial publishers. A new report from the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions develops a strategy on how to work in negotiations with the publishers.

In 2021, the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (Sveriges universitets- och högskoleförbund, SUHF) convened a “Beyond transformative agreements” working group (the BTA group) to lay the foundation for further advancing the transition to open access. Now, the group has proposed a strategy for how Sweden – and the Bibsam Consortium – should operate in its negotiations with the publishers. The aim is to move away from transformative agreements to a financially sustainable system that stimulates the transition to a fully open publishing system.

The current publishing system has several flaws that negatively affect research, at the individual level (the researcher), and at the systemic level (Higher Education Institutions, HEIs and research funding).

Astrid Söderbergh Widding, President of Stockholm University
photo by Sören Andersson, Stockholm University

“Subscribing to and publishing in scholarly journals is expensive, and costs are increasing.  Additionally, the publishers' business model is based on researchers transferring the rights to their own work, despite the fact that in many cases this work is paid for with public funds”, says Astrid Söderbergh Widding, President of Stockholm University and chair of the BTA group.

Focus on transformative agreements

In recent years, the national work on open access to scholarly publications has had a clear focus on signing read and publish agreements with the scholarly publishers (“transformative agreements”, TA) in order to reach the government's goal of immediate open access to findings of all publicly funded research. In Sweden, the work has been successful due to the transformative agreements signed with most of the major publishers. In 2022, 70 per cent of all articles in scholarly journals with at least one author from a Swedish HEI were open access.

These types of transformative agreements were signed with the hope that the publishers would convert more of their journals to fully open access journals. But that has not happened. The publishers are actively working to obtain income from both subscriptions and publishing, and they therefore see this type of agreement as a long-term solution.

“We run a substantial risk of getting stuck in a perpetual transformation that also contributes to increasing costs. At the European and global levels, transformative agreements have often served as the starting point for working more systematically with negotiations with publishers, as Sweden has now done for a long time,” says Wilhelm Widmark, Library Director at Stockholm University Library and member of the BTA group.

Refrain from entering read and publish agreements in hybrid journals

The BTA group contends that it is vital for control of scholarly publication to reside in the research community, while also emphasizing the need to reduce publication costs. The group’s primary recommendation is that the Bibsam Consortium should refrain from entering read and publish agreements in hybrid journals. Instead, it should only sign agreements for publication in fully open access journals. The group also propose complementary and supporting strategic initiatives and actions.

These include:

  • signing agreements with publishers that only publish open access journals;
  • providing an independent publishing platform like Open Research Europe (ORE);
  • improving the opportunities for migrating researcher-owned journals from traditional publishers to other platforms;
  • continuing to work with copyright issues related to open access.

The Bibsam negotiating group has initiated discussions with a couple of the largest publishers about the need for a new form of agreement beyond transformative agreements, with the goal of only entering agreements for publishing as a service that is transparent and reasonably priced

Find out more in the original story, published in Swedish